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Okay so her name isn't Ellie-bellie. Her nickname isn't Ellie-bellie, either. I've never even called her that before now. I just thought it sounded like a fetching title.
Before I boast about her, let me just remind you what a beta reader is and does. The title denotes said person is just that - a reader. This person is strategically placed to read unpublished, typically largely unedited manuscripts prior to submission to the publisher, but this process is definitely influenced by the kind of writer and author working together. I self-edit as I go, so Ellie tends to get manuscripts that are better than they would be if I just had to 'get it all out' and edit later. It also means it takes a long time for a manuscript to be good enough to leave my type-A typing fingers. That being said, she has seen some of my more recent work in shocking condition. I should have been hung upside down by my toenails (and maybe smacked) for sending both Unfailing Love AND Gap Year to her with chunks (chunks, you lot. Chunks.) of unfinished sections. That's just plain naughty. Don't ever do that to your beta reader. Do not.
Beta reading is not a profession, which means she and everyone like her, doesn't get paid. This is not to be confused with a proofreader or editor. Beta's do what they do because they love to read and typically have a deep affinity for the author or their work. They do this out of a real joy they get from being that pre-submission partner. They usually have to hit deadlines and are expected to make in-depth commentary on any manner of things like grammar, spelling, plot holes, personal opinions on dialogue or descriptions. One could argue that the sole act of reading a manuscript and feeding back in any form is beta reading. I suppose, yes, but where is the standard? My beta reader wouldn't be my beta reader if she sent me an email with 4-6 sentences of her overall thoughts on the book. That doesn't cut it. Not for me, anyway. However, I have used that tactic a few times in the past when wanting additional sets of eyes or opinions, or to see if what Ellie said in her comments was the general interpretation of readers who hadn't consulted with one another. The quick read tactic with generalised opinion for feedback is helpful and certainly has its place, but it isn't a route I regularly take, nor would it pass Bella standards for the role of permanent beta.
So, Ellie has been mines since 2014 according to an email I found in my inbox. Yes, I said mines. I likes the Ellie. I keeps the Ellie.
I hadn't realised how long she's been walking this road with me. Ellie has read most of my manscripts multiple times. She also has six children. Her and her husband are like the modern Von Trapp family, except they don't sing, aren't running from a bigot dictator, and have one less child. So they aren't quite the VTs, but it's funny to compare them. What makes this post even more special is to say that last night I got to meet her in person for the first time last week! Ellie and her family live in Texas and we live in Virginia, so this was a very special and unexpected opportunity. Nine books in, lots of emails, even more edits, a few telephone conversations and text messages made our dinner date feel like absolutely perfect timing.
here we are at The Capital Grille in Washington, DC.
Bella and Ellie
Our waiter made the evening just as special as the faultless food. He was older, very charming, made us laugh every time he came to check on the table, never let my Shirley Temple run dry, and even brought me an off-the-menu special dessert . . .even though I didn't want dessert. He also tried to convince me I wanted to share Ellie's creme brulee and put a spoon right in front of me. Cheeky. I had a few wee bites. It was better than the one I had in Paris and I told him so. He seemed surprised that I had been to Paris. Why? Don't people travel? "I've been twice, actually, and I'm not a fan," I told him with a polite smile. He said he would tell Chef the compliment about the dessert, and then promptly returned with a huge martini glass.
Bella: What is this?!?
Waiter: Compliments from Chef. He said you won't find this dessert in Paris.
Yes, I ate it, and it was amazing.
For two hours Ellie and I were in the same room sharing conversation in person after a little over two years of working together. One can't put a price tag on that. Quality time that is void of distraction can't be topped. Adorable gentlemanly waiters don't count as distraction. Now, it would be easy to say that because Ellie loves my work and me (she told me so) I have reciprocal adoration for her. No. I have a deep respect and dear love for Ellie because she sets a standard. She lives her life in a manner of integrity and passion, always being honest with me in her work. This working relationship would not have gone far if she were anything but honest, and also open to me ignoring some of her comments or suggestions. She knows the boundaries. My books are my books, and she has no control over what I do with them, but there is a level of respect between us that if she says something I listen and consider it, because I trust her. There have been two specific books where had I not taken notice of her comments, I would have had a major flop of a novel. She picks up on inconsistencies and holes. She will notice if a certain character isn't 'being him/herself', and she challenges my motives in certain chapters. Ellie's style is to comment whenever something pops into her head. I love this style because I get live reactions. It's extremely helpful to gauge whether or not people are 'getting' what I'm trying to convey. This level of intimacy with an author's work only comes through a true appreciation for it. She would never pick up on the things she picks up on if she didn't really care about these characters, and that is what an author needs to remember when looking for a beta reader. Do not settle.
I'm glad I didn't.
One of my favourite's from Ellie. ''Takes a secure man.'' I still laugh.
Now you know what I mean when I say beta reader.
And no, I will not share her.
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